The forthcoming trial will be the most radical courtroom drama west of Chicago. The prosecution and the defense are in two separate worlds. The megalithic courtroom procedure will grind on and on, and Manson will go on talking about the end of the world. It is unlikely that anyone will ever know what happened on the nights of August 8 and August 9, let alone know in what dimension it took place.
Manson’s objection to the trial is that it is arbitrary in selecting him as a scapegoat, and irrelevant in that it does not attempt to deal in the absolute terms that he has set up.
What he is asking for is patently impossible, and therefore denied the validity of the court. But Manson is not the only person to have called the judicial system into question on grounds that it does not function in the absolute. In fact, Manson’s claim that a court that does not operate on cosmic law has been argued since law was first codified, and it is actually on this point that it is most vulnerable. The law does not pretend to dispense divine law; it claims to operate on a limited, finite system of values, but once you accept the premise, you are obligated to accept a fiction, in terms of justice.
The fiction is in the assigning of guilt to one party, even the isolation of one crime, within a society that perpetuates itself through both mental and physical violence.
Justice can be done only if the jury could consist of everybody in society so the court can expose all the connections between all events simultaneously. Since this is a physical impossibility except through electronic media, the court must proceed as if events took place isolated from the society in which they took place, and once that fiction has been established, it is easy to find villains in individuals.
By accepting this without question, our legal system is guilty of just what Manson claims: It is a form of theater in which real victims are found for sacrifice. And if we have allowed our legal system to become theater, we are already in the area of magic.
“Modern legalistic relationalism,” as Norman O. Brown pointed out in Love’s Body, “does not get away from magic: on the contrary it makes all the magical effects so permanent and so pervasive that we do not notice them at all.” We are under a spell; the courts, the government have mesmerized us with documents, facts, fetishes to keep our minds off what is really happening.
The reason the present judicial system is so vulnerable to being manipulated by freaks like Manson and political radicals is its narrow definition of human activity, the establishing of a single, separate crime in time with a single, obvious motive. Not only is the court incapable of “recreating” what “really happened” and therefore of assigning blame, it is incapable of saying what crime is except within a self-serving moral context.
The irony is that as long as the courts persist in dealing with crime as a simple matter, there will be crime. The judicial system actually perpetuates crime because it is incapable of dealing with psychological reality or the true climate of the society.
* * *
Charles Hollopeter, who had successfully defended a sex criminal virtually convicted by the press in what was considered an impossible case, was Charles Manson’s first court-appointed lawyer. Manson recalls that he saw him “briefly,” and that Hollopeter, who could not take seriously Manson’s desire to act as his own defense, shuffled his documents, mumbled some legal technicalities, and asked the court for a psychiatric examination of his client.
Manson could never accept an insanity plea because he does not consider himself insane. Legally, however, it would have been a simple way out. After all, his alleged crimes are hardly in the realm of sanity.
But Manson insists on defending himself on the grounds that he is quite sane, but that it is the court which is not. He is fond of quoting the Chicago 7 trial as an example of the corruption of the legal system, and it is very effective. Manson’s condemnation of justice as practiced is obviously accurate in many ways, and it is simply this, his total rejection of the society and its institutions that has won over the L.A. Underground Press.
As for the plea of insanity that Hollopeter entered, Manson quickly dismissed it as an obvious fallacy. From his point of view, it is a compliment to be considered insane by an Establishment whose self-serving definition of justice is just sordid theater.
And the point is valid. A “mental incompetent” is legally absolved from guilt, but if the argument is carried to its conclusion, there are extenuating circumstances behind every crime.
If you follow the thread far enough it extends everywhere. When Karl Marx said, “We are all members of one body,” he meant it to be understood psychologically as well as politically. The whole society is a body and specific illnesses are merely symptoms which relate to the whole.
If ever psycho-analysis is admitted to the court, not as hired testimony for the prosecution or the defense, but, to examine the court itself as a client, its conclusions are likely to undermine our accepted, and therefore complacent, concept of justice:
“Freud sees the collision between psychoanalysis and our penal institutions: ‘It is not psychology that deserves to be laughed at, but the procedure of judicial inquiry.’ Reik, in a moment of apocalyptic optimism, declares that ‘The enormous importance attached by criminal justice to the deed as such derives from a cultural phase which is approaching its end.’ A social order based on the reality principle, a social order which draws the distinction between the wish and the deed, between the criminal and the righteous, is still the kingdom of darkness. It is only as long as a distinction is made between real and imaginary murders that real murders are worth committing: as long as the universal guilt is denied, there is a need to resort to individual crime, as a form of confession, and as a request for punishment. The strength of sin is the law.” (Love’s Body, Norman O. Brown)
“The strength of sin is the law” — Corinthians XV:56. Just as the Courts cannot afford to take the First Amendment to the Constitution seriously, they have never pretended to incorporate Christ’s amendment to the Seventh Commandment (adultery): “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Like the Pharisees, in the account of the woman taken in adultery, the court, because it cannot incorporate Christ’s teaching, is “convicted by its own conscience.” The law, assuming that divine justice will take care of itself, does not concern itself, then, with questions of good and evil. Perhaps its wisdom in restricting its jurisdiction comes from the suspicion that those large cosmic questions are never answered except to the satisfaction of personal prejudice.
In Anthony Burgess’ classic novel of mindless violence, A Clockwork Orange, his brutish protagonist, Alex, says as much as perhaps can ever be said on the subject: “But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop. If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me in our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.”
* * *
Ironically, after all the judgments have been passed on Manson, the worst the court can do is to send him back to where he is most at home: prison.
Charles has spent 22 of his 35 years in prison, and it neither taught him that crime does not pay, nor convinced him of the righteousness of the society that condemned him. All he learned about was the circular, vengeful logic of crime and punishment: Society locks up criminals, because criminals make us lock up ourselves behind our steel frame doors.
Charlie actually looked upon his time in prison as a good thing. He developed a self-taught form of solipsism which let him see the years of captivity as a form of ascetic meditation. Prison was to him an austere form of monastic life and his cell was a Platonic cave where he could project the entire universe. When he finally got out he discovered the world was equally illusory on both sides of the wall, and the grandest illusion was the very concept of inside and outside.
Charlie had come to his own realization that, to the mystic, putting someone in prison as a form of punishment was an incredible irony. It had actually preserved him from the corruption of the world. It’s the world that’s actually the prison! On the outside, those who thought they were free were actually imprisoned in their games. When he was released, it was like being born at the age of 32. According to Gypsy, one of the more dominant members of the Family:
“When he got out, he was brand new. He was like a three-year-old. He was like three years old, he’s been on earth three years. You can’t lie to him, because he believes all. He looks at it, he doesn’t disbelieve it, and he doesn’t believe it. He just looks at it … He doesn’t have all the times mommy said, “Take your thumb out of your mouth,’ in his head. He didn’t pay any attention to those things because he wasn’t personally involved with them.”
His paradoxical brain allowed him to turn everything on its head. Even physical punishment could be interpreted as its opposite by taking Christ’s words literally:
“If someone beats you with a whip, and you love the whip, then what’s he doing? Making a fool of himself. [laughs] Old J.C. said, ‘Turn the other cheek.’ It’s a simple thing, man. [laughs] It’s heaven right here, Jack, right here.”
“Is that what you did in prison, made it a beautiful place?”
“It always was.”
“How did you pass your time away?”
“Time away? Yeah, I guess it was away, far away.”(from Gary Stromberg’s tape of Manson)
And it was in prison, at Terminal Island, that this strange tale had begun, three years ago, when his friend, Phil Kaufman, who was serving time for smuggling dope, turned him on to the “music scene, dope, and the ‘hippie thing’ in the world outside.